Utopian Recess Construction Kits! On sale now!

For about 50 zillion reasons, I believe that recess should be the cornerstone of our educational system.  That is why I’m super-double thumbs-down about what is happening at our kids’ school.

This year, our local school district implemented a program to create a kinder, gentler, safer recess. Honestly, it creeps me out (think Stepford Recess.) For a fee, this company will send out trainers to help set up a school’s new recess curriculum. And once it’s in place, recess is never the same again.

That sucks. Adults have graded recess, and given our kids a failing grade. At playing. Never mind all the developmentally vital lessons that kids need to learn organically through unsupervised play. According to these adults, our kids aren’t playing correctly. Our school district bought into this premise: adults know how to build a playground community, and kids don’t. So the company was hired to re-create recess. (Re-create. Recreate. How’s that for stinging irony?)

We are talking recess. RECESS!!! This is huge! This is something that is VERY IMPORTANT to kids. On some days, it is the one thing that motivates my son to get to school. On every level- physically, mentally, emotionally- kids need their unsupervised time, in the exact same way that they need their sleep.

Here’s a quote from the web page of the new program:

“Our experience is that diminishing opportunities for unsupervised play in our society have left kids with a very thin understanding of how to manage their own play and that it is important to have grown-ups introduce some basic rules to make play work.”

Or, simply put:

Kids don’t know how to play without adult supervision anymore. Therefore, they need more adult supervision.

It goes on further to say that kids don’t just need adult supervision. They need these groan ups to be playing alongside them as well. Wow.

When you are done tripping on that stuff, check out a few of the new playground regulations:

Regulation of the game schedule– The sport of the week is dictated by a fixed schedule. You can’t play soccer if it’s not soccer week. You can’t play football if it’s not football week.

Regulation of the players on the field– The game of the week is governed by a new set of adult-approved rules. For instance, there is a limit on how many players can be on the soccer field at the same time. Players must sub in, play their minutes, and then sub out and wait in line again. (One of the recesses is a mere 15 minutes long.)

* correction- after meeting with the teacher, this rule was removed in the first week of school.

Regulation of where kids can walk– Seriously. If kids want to walk around the playground, there is one designated route where they can walk.**

** edit- this rule was put in place to keep kids from walking into other designated playing zones.

Regulation of where kids can stand– Unbelievable. The standing area is called “The Chill Zone.” Our daughter says “They think if they call it ‘The Chill Zone’ it will make it cool. But that just makes it even worse.” And how about this- The “Chill Zone” is also where kids who get in trouble are sent. Thus, “chilling” and “punishment” are indistinguishable.


Meanwhile, On the other side of the universe, check out this article  by Dr. Peter Gray. It beautifully makes the case for why children need unregulated, unsupervised play. This is the setting where they learn on their own about social consequences, both good and bad. Are there some tough lessons along the way? Absolutely. Are there times when adult intervention is necessary? Of course. But most of the time, our kids can easily navigate this path on their own.

But back to the school- this recess program has been in place since the beginning of the school year. And I am thrilled to say, recess isn’t dead yet. Check this out. After 5 months under recess lockdown, the kids have had enough.  A revolt! A peaceful, respectful, empowering revolt. And such a powerful lesson for all of us. These kids are taking action to create social change.

Just this past week, a group of 5th graders started a petition calling for an end to the new program on the playground.  On the first day they had collected 5 pages of signatures. And by the second day, they had 8 more pages filled with quotes from kids of all ages. And now, kids at at least one other school have heard about what our 5th graders are doing, and these kids are doing the same thing at their own school. They plan to present these signatures to their principles, and then to the superintendent, to hopefully banish the program from their schools forever. As a parent, that’s a playground fight that I am proud to support.

Beautiful, isn’t it, what can happen when a group of children engage their imaginations in an unregulated, unsupervised activity.


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The girl who wrote this letter was sitting next to Abby (our daughter) when she found out they weren’t going to mountain school. These kids have been waiting YEARS for this trip. Yes, of course there are others suffering things much worse. But that doesn’t make this suck any less.

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October 12, 2013 · 1:13 am

In Unicorn Years, you are 30,000 years old.

Bertuch-UnicornJust kidding. I don’t know how to convert to unicorn years. But I did just spent the past 90 minutes erasing at least 20 first sentences, which feels like waaay too long to have only this to show for it. I had one starter about converting human years to guinea pig years, and one about the number of helium addicts among the world’s unicorn population. And then everything started to blend together. I’m flummoxed! But I’m posting anyway.

Glad to be back! (I think.)

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Chubby Bunny

You ever play chubby bunny before? I played it once like 22 years ago, then forgot about it until yesterday. Tonight after dinner, the Munsons played chubby bunny.

It’s easy to play. The only thing you need is a bag of smore-sized marshmallows. Pick one person to go first. They stick a marshmallow in their mouth and have them  say “chubby bunny.” ( No chewing! Just leave it there.) Then you do that over and over until their mouth can’t hold any more marshmallows and they start laughing and spit the slobbery marshmallows all over the place. Now that’s what I call entertainment.

Here are the totals:

Suzanne: 5 marshmallows. She went first and she couldn’t stop laughing. I think that’s why she got last place.

Zach: 6 marshmallows. It was a dream come true for him. His parents laughed and cheered while he crammed as much sugar into his mouth as he could.

Abby: 7 marshmallows. In this sport, missing teeth is almost the equivalent to steroids.

Me: 13 marshmallows. Ohh yeah!Uh huh! Chubby Bunny champ! I had a little time to taunt my wife and kids. Then I scooped out a sink full of  slimy marshmallows before giving in to the sugar coma. Yeah, my jaw is sore from stretching like a python. And the cavity monsters in my mouth probably feel like they just won the lottery. But that’s what it takes to be a champ. Maybe in another 22 years (dentures out!) I’ll be ready to defend my title.


update september 15 2011

i just read about people dying playing chubby bunny. no more chubby bunny for the munsons.


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Cerealistic art

this art was rendered in plastic, soy milk and cap’n crunch

Cereal dust- is there any sugar like it? Maybe I’m running in the wrong circles, but it seems to me that the stuff at the bottom of the box is WAY underappreciated. Frosted Flakes crumbles into a candy sand. Lucky Charms melts into a fine powder that borders on intangibility . Each one unique and awesome. Each one pretty and yummy and freakin’ rocket fuel! They’ll send you to the  stratosphere when you’re still in your pajamas, then send you crashing back down to Earth while you are… uhhh… still in your pajamas. Froot Loops. Fruity Pebbles. Crunch Berries. Cocoa Puffs. Trix! In the darkest corners of a cardboard box lies a gift from the sugar gods. Reach it and you can go from barely awake to cuckoo for cocoa puffs instantly.

A few years ago I gave a spice rack filled with 6 different cereal dusts at a white elephant Christmas party. Today it’s art and who knows what’s next? Maybe a story character who sells lucky charms dust to the healthy kids at the bus stop. This stuff is an untapped gold mine. So many possibilities. And with rocket fuel, the sky’s the limit.

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easy pickin's

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Family elections

I am running for mayor. Mayor of my house. Abby announced yesterday that the Munsons are having elections on Friday for several key positions- kitchen manager, activities coordinator, popcorn maker, mayor… And it looks like mayor is where it’s at.  Abby tells me that being the mayor is “like being the principal of the house. You don’t have to do everything but you can if you want.” So Abby is running for mayor. And I am running against her.

She’s a ruthless campaigner. She’s pulling out every trick in the book:


“ultra family time.” seriously? MAYBE mega family time, but ultra?! come on.

Consider my more honest pledges:

i am running my campaign on food and hygiene


conveniently posted on the most used door in the house…

oops! accidentally left on the kitchen table- the #1 surface space in the house. coincidence??


I could go on. But the sheer volume of campaign materials she has created is too much ground to cover in one election cycle.

But the point is this. I fancy myself a good leader. Sure I have no experience at being a leader, but she’s not that far ahead of me.

Nonetheless voters- I’m leaving it in your hands. Vote Dad for Mayor!


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camping with dad

i guess the only pic i took of the scenery was in the background of this plant

The kids, the dog and I went to Orcas Island for our last trip of the summer. We met up with our good friend Steve D’Amico and daughter Olivia and camped out at Doe Bay.

This trip was a necessary trip. Last month I took the kids on a spontaneous camping trip that sucked. It was a mile long uphill hike where I forgot the sleeping bags and water. We ate lucky charms and drank 7 up and slept under a shared blanket and the tent’s rain fly (until it started raining.) Both Abby and Zach told me they never wanted to go camping again. But after some bargaining, they decided to give me one more chance.

The Doe Bay Resort is a fascinating place. It’s kind of like a commune with short term residents. Yurts and tiny cabins and tents. An organic garden that feeds the restaurant guests. A community fire pit and (gasp!) clothing optional hot tubs. It was a unique experience and we had a blast.

We played a lot of Yahtzee and Farkle, and collected a bunch of rocks. The kids wandered around with newly made friends, Stevie D and I kicked it, and I spent lots of time (all of it, really) sharing a leash with our dog Roger. Any time I tried to leave him in the car or at camp, he yipped away the surrounding serenity. But that was nothing really.  Our first morning there, at 730am, Abby went to the car to get Roger’s leash and accidentally hit the panic button. Since we were staying in a “natural amphitheater,” the sound bounced and echoed throughout the bay. I had to run across the gravel road, half dressed and in bare feet, to help Abby turn it off. Ahh good times.

Stevie D rockin' the bay

TOO MANY PICS! I've earned the nickname papa razzi

It’s been a wild summer, full of great things and tragedies. It’s so nice to have such awesome people to be with through it all.

Zach and new friend Sten landed some serious jumps!

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For Nana Lydia

Pusch Ridge is at the highest point on that there mountain.

We are down in Tucson Arizona right now, celebrating the life of my mother in law who died unexpectedly last month. As we had done with her husband 10 years earlier, we set out on a hike to spread her ashes on the peak of Pusch Ridge. One big difference was that last time it was on a pleasant spring day in May. This time we were pretty much in a sizzling frying pan. Another big difference? 10 years of chasing nana’s grandkids around!

So four 40+ year olds headed off on a hike that climbed to a mile high peak. It was a 2600 foot elevation gain in a steep and short 2 miles. The beautiful views were well earned, with pokey cactuses (cacti), and temperatures over 100 degrees, and tricky loose rock sections and questionable footing. Way down below at the house, we had a telescope all set up so the kids could see us at the top of the summit. Amazingly, nobody bumped it and it actually worked.

the temp hit 111 degrees fahrenheit on the day of the hike. (this thermometer is in the shade.)

The temperature that day hit 111 degrees Fahrenheit (this thermometer is in the shade.) We came home exhausted, drank gallons of water and took baths in ice cubes. All worth it for Nana Lydia.

Thank you Lydia for all the beautiful things you put into my life.

the grandsons were stylin' at the memorial service. and Suz gave a beautiful tribute speech about her mom.

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Pearl Island Paradise

Oh Pearl Island, you perfect little place. Every year we take a trip with 3 other families to this tiny island in the San Juan islands off the Washington coast. There is no ferry service. There are no roads. There is no tv or telephone. Even if it didn’t have an amazing view it would have been paradise on those things alone.

Our families have a total of 10 kids, all between the ages of 6 and 10 (9 girls and 1 boy). Our friends the Corley’s own some amazing property on the island. One of the lots has a cabin where we eat our meals. But aside from eating, we’re outside the whole time. Our hosts are a fascinating family, with a legendary history of camping that has been carried on, generation after generation after generation. We stay in meticulously kept canvas tents (30+ years old) on tarp-covered platforms in the woods, about 20 feet from the beach. It really is paradise, fun and awesome and relaxing and fun (and awesome.) It’s totally safe too. The kids can run around on their own for hours and the water is cold enough to discourage deep swimming. The biggest danger they face is a bee sting.

Every year there is a scavenger hunt. The pioneers, or the natives, or the pirate Blue Beard will leave behind all kinds of clues. It is definitely NOT the dads or moms, no matter how much evidence suggests otherwise. The first year’s hunt was about an hour long. This year, it took two days for them to finish. My favorite clue this year had the kids putting kayak paddles end to end for 10 lengths on the sandy shore. They couldn’t believe it when they discovered that 10 lengths was buried in 3 feet of sea water. They complained to their moms that the dads forgot to check the tide charts. They just couldn’t believe  that ancient Indians would do something like this on purpose. So they impatiently waited.

The next morning, after breakfast, the tide was low enough to resume the hunt. A corner of the lock box was sticking up out of the sand, holding the next in a series of clues that had them running up and down the island for hours. They dug up pirate skulls. They found pieces of a home made wooden jigsaw puzzle (on two different islands!). There was a code to crack from the pages of 4 different books, and ultimately there was a trail of jewels that led to a real live treasure dig. They found a treasure chest filled with $1 coins, chocolate coins, and (almost) real jewels!

But my favorite part of the trip was yelling over at the kayak campers on nearby Posey
Island. The first night we yelled “HEY POSEY! We got spirit, yes we do! We got spirit, how about you!?”
And when they didn’t respond, we booed them. All great fun for the kids.

pirates night out

On the last evening there, we tried it one last time. And miraculously, they responded! “Hey Pearl!….” The kids went into a frenzy. I think it blew their minds. I bet every island in the area could hear their laughing and cheering, they were so excited. So cool that the kayakers did that. I’m guessing we’re looking at a very loud new tradition.

This trip is so amazing every year. Here are some pics that almost capture the paradise.

zach earned his rock-skipper badge this year

our little mermaid


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